THE RED MENACE by Michael Anania


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Autobiographical vignettes and sketches from early-1950s adolescence in Omaha, Nebraska--with essay-like musings on familiar cultural totems (the Bomb, McCarthy, cars) of the period. A few pieces explore (sometimes clumsily) connections between the nuclear threat and sexual tension: ""Everyone saw almost every test. The bomb had special properties for us. It was as though it belonged to us by right of attentive devotion, the same devotion that gave each of us a girl, girls hardly spoken to, watched carefully, offered the role of leading lady in the movies in our heads."" Elsewhere, Anania--""raised not so much in the working class as in the welfare class""--recalls his youthful attraction, despite red-menace rhetoric, to a sentimental sort of underdog Communism. (""In newspaper cartoons Communists were monsters; in actual newsphotos, bona fide American Communists always looked like somebody's unemployed uncle. . . ."") And there are other, less distinctive slivers of socio-historical analysis: ""The ostensibly delinquent hydrator of the fifties, defined by his modified car, seems now something of a pioneer in the development of the American sensibility about the car."" But, when not slipping into routine cultural journalism, Anania does offer sharp, specific glimpses of his growing-up years in an Omaha housing project: his German immigrant-mother, ""offended by the bareness of Nebraska,"" returning to Europe after the war; part-time work alongside the raunchy, punchy, eccentric staff of the Castle Hotel kitchen, where ""anything less than a well-acted degeneracy was dangerous""; and his often-unemployed Italian father, a would-be don who arranged funerals, broke up fights, and ""hankered after a hard luster in things, the deep burnish of the real in metal, the weight of leather, the flex in a hat brim of Italian felt, as though the catastrophe of his life could be abraded with them."" A slight, disjointed volume, then, part memoir, part scrapbook, part essay (though dubbed ""a fiction"")--devoid of cumulative effect, perhaps, but marbled with fine time-and-place details, bits of shrewd character-comedy, and nuggets of descriptive eloquence.

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1984
Publisher: Thunder's Mouth--dist. by Persea